A West Hollywood man was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing his live-in girlfriend, whose body was drained of all blood in a crime that a prosecutor said mirrored the script of a graphic novel the defendant co-wrote.
Judge Mark E. Windham cited the “savagery” and “inconceivable cruelty” of the crime in handing down the life term for Blake Leibel, 37.
Jurors at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles deliberated for about 90 minutes last Wednesday before finding Leibel guilty of first-degree murder, torture and aggravated mayhem for the May 2016 slaying of Iana Kasian, 30, in the condominium they shared. The panel also found true the special circumstance allegations of murder by torture and murder by mayhem.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office had opted earlier not to seek the death penalty against Leibel, who has been jailed without bail since his arrest just over two years ago.
“This case reads like a movie script,” Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef told jurors earlier this month, comparing the crime to a horror movie involving a “gruesome crime” that involved a “prolonged attack” in which Leibel’s girlfriend was “alive for the better part of the mutilation and mayhem.”
The prosecutor said Leibel “followed a script” from “Syndrome,” a book he co-wrote, saying it “mimics what happened to the victim” three weeks after she gave birth to their daughter.
The woman’s nude body, which was covered with a Mickey Mouse blanket that had been used earlier in their newborn’s nursery, was discovered on May 26, 2016, in the couple’s blood-spattered master bedroom after Kasian’s worried mother called authorities to report that she had not been able to reach her daughter, Mokayef said.
She showed jurors an illustration of a woman in Leibel’s book and urged them to compare it with the crime scene, saying it’s “almost exactly like what you have” in the case.
Leibel had barricaded himself inside the master bedroom and came out in boxer shorts after his accountant showed up, with sheriff’s deputies discovering “blood everywhere,” said Mokayef, who handled the case with colleague Beth Silverman.
The woman appeared to have been washed thoroughly and was missing her scalp and the right side of her face, and pieces of flesh were found in the room, the prosecutor said, noting that part of the victim’s scalp that was turned inside out and an ear were subsequently discovered in a trash bin at the bottom of a chute outside the condominium.
The prosecutor said Leibel hadn’t factored in the persistence of his girlfriend’s mother, who initially notified Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies about her daughter’s disappearance one day before the victim was found dead and then again in a 911 call in which she pleaded, “Help me,” the day her daughter’s body was discovered.
Olga Kasian, who had traveled from Ukraine to help care for her infant grandchild, was called as the prosecution’s first witness during the trial.
Through a Russian interpreter, the victim’s mother said she had been helping to care for the baby, who was staying with her at a Los Angeles apartment, and that she never saw her daughter alive after the two went shopping May 23, 2016, to look for a baby stroller. She said she spoke to her daughter once the following afternoon and then never heard from her again.
“There are no words to express the pain and despair that is in my heart … This monster ruined our lives …,” she told the judge shortly before the sentence was imposed.
Outside court after the sentencing, Mokayef said, “Each crime is unique in its own set of facts, but this is one of the most gruesome crimes that in 23 1/2, 24 years I’ve seen. I mean I’ve seen some gruesome crimes, but this is one of the most gruesome.”
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